All right, people. It's New Year's resolution time, that week before the turn of the odometer when we all pretend we're going to be better people in the new year. Sometimes our promises stick, sometimes they don't - but that doesn't stop us from making them.
But instead of ourselves, let's turn our sights to something we love so dearly: Television.
As wonderful as the medium may be, there are still improvements to be made. So we present you with our New Year's Resolutions for TV Writers.
Slow down, please
I'm exhausted. Not because I've had to watch much of the 409 scripted shows - not to mention the unscripted ones - that made their way to my television screen in 2015. That was tiring, but, look, we all have our burdens to bear.
No, I'm tired because TV shows are stuffed to the gills, and it's making them no fun to watch anymore. That crazy 409 number means networks and creators have to capture the attention of viewers - and fast. Their solution: So. Much. Plot.
Let's take a look at Flesh and Bone, Starz's drama about a ballet company and a mysterious young dancer who quickly rises to the top. The talent behind the camera was top-notch. Creator Moira Beckett-Walley was an integral part of Breaking Bad's success. The finale is Sunday, but it's not worth the catch-up, so let me tell you about all the plot points they have stuffed into the mini-series' eight-episode run:
The rookie trope: Ailing veteran vs. the Chosen One.
A ballet-loving Russian gangster/strip-club owner.
Teen sex slaves.
Degenerative neurological disease.
Mentally ill homeless man-as-prophet.
That's enough to fill several seasons, let alone eight episodes. And let's not forget, this was a show that was supposed be about ballet.
Sometimes this works. I didn't love the last season of Game of Thrones as much as previous ones, but those guys can handle several worlds full of plot and still keep my attention. Shonda Rhimes is an expert of Too Much Stuff TV. Scandal moves at high speed, and sometimes it doesn't work (booooo, B613). Still Rhimes is good at correcting mistakes and keeping her many plots and twists in a row.
But another show in ShondaLand - Peter Nowalk's How to Get Away With Murder - doesn't operate as smoothly. The constant barrage of Things and Happenings leaves no room for meaningful character development. Name three characters other than Viola Davis' Annalise Keating. Go on. It's harder than it should be for an ensemble show.
It doesn't help that networks are all scrambling for the new TV holy grail: the binge-watching viewer so loyal to a show that it's harder to turn off the TV than to sit and watch the next episode. Netflix shows have largely abandoned the episodic nature of television for what amounts to long movies - because they expect viewers to sit and watch many episodes at a time. That makes a barrage of plots a little easier to handle because you go right from episode to episode toward the conclusion.
We forget that Mad Men and Breaking Bad - two of the greatest shows of all time - started off rather slow. Many viewers came to Breaking Bad after binge-watching, not realizing that the first couple of seasons tended to burn slow, and it wasn't until the latter half of the series that it started to speed up as main character Walter White descended further and further into villainy.
So, writers and creators of unmade TV, I implore you to take a breather. Slow the plot. Pare it down. Focus on creating fully fleshed-out characters before you hurtle them into situations I can't compel myself to care about.
In 2016, give me and the rest of my TV watchers a break.
- Molly Eichel
Get it together, superheroes
A tsunami of superhero TV shows has engulfed us all in half-baked, immature, spandex-rich fodder.
The Flash, Gotham, Heroes Reborn, Arrow, and a half-dozen other series have little to offer beyond centerfold-worthy heroes with supernatural powers and weepy origin stories.
There are yet more shows to come, including the CW's Legends of Tomorrow and Hourman, TNT's Titans, AMC's Preacher, and Syfy's Krypton.
I implore series creators to make a New Year's resolution to up the level of discourse.
Stop cranking out addled bubblegum fantasies such as Supergirl (the freshman season returns Jan. 4 to CBS) or PlayStation Network's purportedly adult drama Powers, which has little by way of ideas beyond epithets and puerile one-liners. (It returns later next year.)
Netflix alone has produced superhero stories for grown-ups, with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Cinematic works of rare gravitas, they transcend their comic-book origins and say something about the human condition.
Fantastical or realist, stories are worth little if they don't say something about the world we live in. Most superhero shows have little to say.
But the Netflix shows, especially Jessica Jones, do.
As Jessica, Krysten Ritter delivers a powerful performance, playing a burned-out superhero-turned-P.I. She can beat down villains with the best of them, but her true power lies in the courage with which she confronts her inner demons, PTSD, and the long-term effects of rape.
We meet Jessica a year after she suffered horrific trauma at the hands of one of TV's truly evil villains, Kilgrave, who has the power to control people's minds. Played by David Tennant in a sublimely slippery, serpentlike turn, Kilgrave had Jessica in his thrall for months, using her as a plaything.
Kilgrave insinuates himself back into Jessica's life by sending some of the men and women he has enslaved to kill her.
Jessica responds to the attacks with remarkable compassion, seeing her assailants as fellow victims. She helps them come to terms with their actions and vows to hunt down Kilgrave.
Few network dramas present issues like rape head-on or give us such an accomplished portrait of a complex, strong character.
Compared to Jessica, Supergirl heroine Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) has the depth of a cardboard cutout.
There is very little to Kara beneath her superpowers. She's a prototypical TV girlie-girl with the same preoccupations as a hundred others - maintaining her appearance, being popular, and finding Mr. Right.
Supergirl, The Flash, and their ilk take the greatest care to make the fictional world they present as nuanced, detailed, and vivid as possible. Yet they end up trapped in a hermetically sealed bubble with little connection to the real world.
Isn't it time they spoke to our lives?
- Tirdad Derakhshani